Beyond the Build

Tips from the Field

Hard Knocks Site & Civil: Be Prepared

Site repaired

Good civil engineers are worth their weight in gold. I would suggest theirs is a discipline that, beyond all others, can make or break a project. I’ve seen civil cause the quickest spiral toward trouble or, most of the time, provide the most impact for success on a difficult site.

To us, it’s important to partner with a civil engineer or a civil engineering firm that can think outside the box, searching for real solutions that are economically viable and not just quick fixes. Two significant civil improvement projects of ours come to mind as illustrations. Between these sites, there were all of the challenges known to man, short of glowing earth or toxic waste. There were:

demolition of existing structures ~ land reclamation of decades-old landfills ~ creation of storm water detention areas never before considered on these sites as well as underground storm water retention along with bio ponds for water and gas separation from the federal interstate systems ~ creating new wetlands ~stream reclamation ~ and more

This is one “before” shot.


We had everyone involved from the EPA District 4, to the local Riverkeepers, concerned citizens and local television cameras on site, especially after a rain event.

Sites during and after remediation:

A few lessons learned along the way:

  • Be Prepared for anything that can go awry. On a redevelopment, the unexpected will happen again and again.
  • Never depend on anything but an updated/current survey–no excuses. It will save money and time. I know this sounds elementary and almost understood, but skipping the step can sometimes be a temptation. Likewise, especially on these types of projects, there is no substitute for an excellent and thorough Geotech report.
  • Never drink the Kool-Aid and think the contingency will not be spent.
  • Have a seasoned team around you, well versed in the particular type of civil project being built and those who will not “quail” or point fingers when the going gets tough.

All these four points are important, and also the partners you choose are paramount to success. Buy-in from all is important at the beginning, in the middle and until the end and then past it. (at times)

While there are many good civil engineering firms with whom we have worked over the years, on these two projects Columbia Engineering and Haines-Gipson were involved. Each understands the true meaning of meeting the clients’ expectations, working for value-oriented solutions and staying after it with diligence.


Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.